Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time
September 26th, 2011
03:47 PM ET

Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time

If you're charged with a nonviolent crime in one Alabama town, you might just have the chance to pray it all away.

Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year.

The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.

Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path. Rowland told WKRG it costs $75 a day to house each inmate.

"Longevity is the key," he told WKRG.

He said he believes 30-day drug programs don't have the long-term capabilities to heal someone in the ways the ROC program might.

Police in the town said they think it is a simple choice, but others think it's a choice that shouldn't even be offered.

The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is "blatantly unconstitutional," according to the Alabama Press-Register.

"It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity," Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn't see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren't being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.

The offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend. If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed.

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Filed under: Crime • Religion
soundoff (1,515 Responses)
  1. God's Says

    This is actually a great idea. The Taliban have been doing it for years.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    We got it the first 10 times you shouted it at us, AW.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kingofthenet

    This is Great Mon, Pass the 'Holy Herb', long live Rastasfari!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @kingofthenet: now *that's* a church i can get behind.. Maybe..

      September 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. asdf

    Its only a cult if the majority don't believe in the delusion I suppose.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. BK

    People who believe that religion makes people less violent are delusional and need to look at the stats for what kinds of people get put in prison to begin with.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Well, well..

      Please, could you provide us with those stats? Enlighten us.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. leonard

    How disgusting! To give a choice between worshiping a false deity or jail, some choice! And it’s also un-American.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. God Made Me Do It!

    Probably teabaggers. Those idiots will destroy the country.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. asdf

    Yeah because this worked out so well when Huckabee started releasing mass murders that had found the word the Jesus.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      nonviolent luckily I guess, plus its mostly Arkansas that releases murderers who become jesus freaks.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. james

    illegal

    September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jack Kieser

    That sounds like a "separation of church and state" issue to me. I can't imagine that these Alabama judges are going to take religious affiliation into account when sentencing and tell a Muslim to go to Mosque or a Jew to Temple as penance for a crime. No, it's going to be the Christian church, or jail.

    Besides, what about when an Atheist commits a misdemeanor? Will they also give him / her a false choice of either jail time or time in a house of worship that they don't believe has any significance?

    Simply put, this is a problem, and should be challenged by the ACLU and taken down by the SCOTUS.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. COUNTRYCOOK

    Sounds like a VERY GOOD idea !!!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ed

    As a Christian I have to agree with everyone saying this is wrong. The courts should not be forcing people to attend church and the criminals should not be given the option to get off lite for a punishment.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. heather

    This makes every penny i gave to the ACLU worth it. and yeah...what if you are jewish, etc. etc. you are supposed to renounce your faith? what if it's over too many unpaid parking tickets or a minor(ish) offense? somedays i feel like i have woken up into a weird alternate universe.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Chris

    "we aren't forcing you to go to church, we'll just throw you in jail if you don't"... I can't believe this.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      It is drastically aggravated with the lopsided "Here is your choice: 1) church and no record, or 2) jail or fines + a record

      September 26, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. heather

    Ack! besides, where do they draw the line at putting someone dangerous back on the street after a year?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
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